3 principles for designing Watch apps users will actually love

Apple-Watch-3


Twisted Agile: We’re taking elements Agile dev and shaking it up with savvy best practices for better, faster outcomes. Sign up for our free webinar on June 11 at 10 a.m. PST/11 p.m. EST.

Much has been said about the challenges app developers have encountered while tackling their designs for the Apple Watch. As is often the case with any game-changing device, there are a whole host of new considerations to keep in mind — everything from
the functionality to the aesthetics needs a fresh take. With these new perimeters in mind, our design team at Avaamo spent months prior to the official Apple Watch launch, testing and retesting our business messaging app. Throughout the design process, we found that in order to build an effective app, it was critical to keep three key principles in mind.

1. Keep it minimal

First and foremost, the Apple Watch was consciously designed to be used as little as possible. You really get that sense immediately when you use it. Its raison d’être, according to Ives and the Apple Watch design gurus, was to solve a growing problem mostly created by Apple itself: The iPhone is taking over our lives with constant connectivity, buzz and distraction. Yes, we want engagement and connection, but how can we filter the interruptions in a manner that doesn’t remove us from our immediate experience? The answer is simple: You must design something to not be
used.

You must shorten the interaction. You must get people in and out as quickly as possible. In fact, Apple’s User Interface Guidelines recommend that developers keep all interactions under 30 seconds. Thirty seconds actually feels like an eternity if you hold the watch upright that long, and it is quite uncomfortable. For example, for the Avaamo messaging app, we initially tried to replicate our iPhone app on the Watch. It became immediately apparent that this full featured approach took far too long and was frankly intolerable.

Long notification vs. glance description

Above: Long notification vs. glance description

As a result, we
decided to center our design and UX on the built-in Notifications and Glances. We wanted users to see new or recent messages and be able to respond to them immediately, without ever having to get into the app. For incoming notifications, they had to be actionable: Get the message and respond or dismiss. To quickly reply, we spent a lot of time creating our own business emojis and also came up with a suite of the most relevant canned text responses. This may seem strange, but we actually found ourselves using this feature the most and are constantly updating the options to make them even more useful and contextually relevant (more on this later).

Glances provide a second, or backup, level of notifications displaying a concise summary of recent messages. Glances aren’t for every app, but we felt they worked particularly well for ours since it is a messaging app. A glance occurs when the user swipes up on an activated Watch. Many apps have a glance view, so you often find
yourself swiping through quite a few. To cut through the clutter, our solution was to make it as visual and striking as possible: We eliminated text altogether to only show the avatars of the most recent messages. We love the simplicity of glances and are brainstorming ways to incorporate a glance-style notification or display into our iPhone app.

2. Keep it colorful

You’re designing on a tiny black screen with very few elements on it. Colors SCREAM out. You’ll want to use bright, high-contrast colors for your app. The Avaamo color palette on the iPhone contained mostly subdued and slightly desaturated colors, which looked great on an iPhone with a white background. However, when we translated the same palette to the Apple Watch’s black background, it looked muddy and muted. We had to brighten and increase the contrast to really make the UI pop and give it some energy. Also keep in mind that text and icons often play a substitute role to buttons on the iPhone,
so their use takes on an added importance on the Apple Watch.

One realization after seeing our app on the Watch was that it felt claustrophobic and too “listy.” Worse, it simply looked like too many other Watch apps. Scrolling with the crown was very smooth and effective, so we decided to redesign our messaging screen with a much more colorful card-style layout showcasing the user avatars. The large avatars provided warmth, quick recognition, and were easy to quickly scroll through and click.

Our initial design (left) looked and felt too “listy”. Our re-design featured a visual card-style layout showcasing the user avatars.

Above: Our initial design (left) looked and felt too “listy.” Our
redesign featured a visual card-style layout showcasing the user avatars.

3. Keep at it

Plan on making iterations. We did. Avaamo is trying to design the best Apple Watch app it can, but since it’s an entirely new interaction platform, there is a learning curve, and you probably won’t get it right the first time. It’s an entirely different world seeing your design on the Watchkit simulator and playing with your app on your wrist. Now that it’s released and we finally can test in the field, find bugs, and get feedback, the industry-wide Apple Watch development has only just begun. With the Apple Watch’s small, minimal screen, it is easy to rapidly design, prototype, and iterate.

Contextual canned text responses

Above: Contextual canned text responses

The real challenge designing on the Apple Watch, where interactions are short and screen space is limited, is predicting a user’s interaction or behavior and providing the right contextual response. For example, replying to a message on the Watch is less than perfect right now. You can always do a voice response, but often this feels awkward, depending on the setting. Emoji’s are fine, but very general. Our canned text responses seem quite useful, but they’re not always specific enough. Predictive intelligence is really the next frontier, where anticipative responses are given based on specific keywords in the message. For example, if someone messages, “Do you want to meet in the office or conference room?” a series of contextually-aware
responses would reveal themselves, starting with two buttons, one for “office” and one for “conference room.” Obviously, this is a long-term goal and requires some sophisticated AI integration, but thinking in a predictive way on the Apple Watch still lends itself to a better user experience in the short term.

Looking down the road

Since the Apple Watch is tethered to your iPhone, in many ways it has made it the center of Apple’s digital ecosystem (sorry, Macbook), though maybe not the innovator anymore. Many of the new cutting edge features of the Apple Watch like Force Touch, Glances, and perhaps digital touch (the “Taptic” engine) might indeed find their way back to the iPhone as they seem superior in simplicity and much less distracting. It didn’t take long for many of the best iPhone features to make their way to the Mac, and we’re likely to see a similar cross-pollination with the Apple Watch.

Ryan Alexiev is the Creative
Director for
Avaamo, a messaging application provider for mobile-first enterprises and mobile-first workers.



3 principles for designing Watch apps users will actually love

Apple-Watch-3


Twisted Agile: We’re taking elements Agile dev and shaking it up with savvy best practices for better, faster outcomes. Sign up for our free webinar on June 11 at 10 a.m. PST/11 p.m. EST.

Much has been said about the challenges app developers have encountered while tackling their designs for the Apple Watch. As is often the case with any game-changing device, there are a whole host of new considerations to keep in mind — everything from
the functionality to the aesthetics needs a fresh take. With these new perimeters in mind, our design team at Avaamo spent months prior to the official Apple Watch launch, testing and retesting our business messaging app. Throughout the design process, we found that in order to build an effective app, it was critical to keep three key principles in mind.

1. Keep it minimal

First and foremost, the Apple Watch was consciously designed to be used as little as possible. You really get that sense immediately when you use it. Its raison d’être, according to Ives and the Apple Watch design gurus, was to solve a growing problem mostly created by Apple itself: The iPhone is taking over our lives with constant connectivity, buzz and distraction. Yes, we want engagement and connection, but how can we filter the interruptions in a manner that doesn’t remove us from our immediate experience? The answer is simple: You must design something to not be
used.

You must shorten the interaction. You must get people in and out as quickly as possible. In fact, Apple’s User Interface Guidelines recommend that developers keep all interactions under 30 seconds. Thirty seconds actually feels like an eternity if you hold the watch upright that long, and it is quite uncomfortable. For example, for the Avaamo messaging app, we initially tried to replicate our iPhone app on the Watch. It became immediately apparent that this full featured approach took far too long and was frankly intolerable.

Long notification vs. glance description

Above: Long notification vs. glance description

As a result, we
decided to center our design and UX on the built-in Notifications and Glances. We wanted users to see new or recent messages and be able to respond to them immediately, without ever having to get into the app. For incoming notifications, they had to be actionable: Get the message and respond or dismiss. To quickly reply, we spent a lot of time creating our own business emojis and also came up with a suite of the most relevant canned text responses. This may seem strange, but we actually found ourselves using this feature the most and are constantly updating the options to make them even more useful and contextually relevant (more on this later).

Glances provide a second, or backup, level of notifications displaying a concise summary of recent messages. Glances aren’t for every app, but we felt they worked particularly well for ours since it is a messaging app. A glance occurs when the user swipes up on an activated Watch. Many apps have a glance view, so you often find
yourself swiping through quite a few. To cut through the clutter, our solution was to make it as visual and striking as possible: We eliminated text altogether to only show the avatars of the most recent messages. We love the simplicity of glances and are brainstorming ways to incorporate a glance-style notification or display into our iPhone app.

2. Keep it colorful

You’re designing on a tiny black screen with very few elements on it. Colors SCREAM out. You’ll want to use bright, high-contrast colors for your app. The Avaamo color palette on the iPhone contained mostly subdued and slightly desaturated colors, which looked great on an iPhone with a white background. However, when we translated the same palette to the Apple Watch’s black background, it looked muddy and muted. We had to brighten and increase the contrast to really make the UI pop and give it some energy. Also keep in mind that text and icons often play a substitute role to buttons on the iPhone,
so their use takes on an added importance on the Apple Watch.

One realization after seeing our app on the Watch was that it felt claustrophobic and too “listy.” Worse, it simply looked like too many other Watch apps. Scrolling with the crown was very smooth and effective, so we decided to redesign our messaging screen with a much more colorful card-style layout showcasing the user avatars. The large avatars provided warmth, quick recognition, and were easy to quickly scroll through and click.

Our initial design (left) looked and felt too “listy”. Our re-design featured a visual card-style layout showcasing the user avatars.

Above: Our initial design (left) looked and felt too “listy.” Our
redesign featured a visual card-style layout showcasing the user avatars.

3. Keep at it

Plan on making iterations. We did. Avaamo is trying to design the best Apple Watch app it can, but since it’s an entirely new interaction platform, there is a learning curve, and you probably won’t get it right the first time. It’s an entirely different world seeing your design on the Watchkit simulator and playing with your app on your wrist. Now that it’s released and we finally can test in the field, find bugs, and get feedback, the industry-wide Apple Watch development has only just begun. With the Apple Watch’s small, minimal screen, it is easy to rapidly design, prototype, and iterate.

Contextual canned text responses

Above: Contextual canned text responses

The real challenge designing on the Apple Watch, where interactions are short and screen space is limited, is predicting a user’s interaction or behavior and providing the right contextual response. For example, replying to a message on the Watch is less than perfect right now. You can always do a voice response, but often this feels awkward, depending on the setting. Emoji’s are fine, but very general. Our canned text responses seem quite useful, but they’re not always specific enough. Predictive intelligence is really the next frontier, where anticipative responses are given based on specific keywords in the message. For example, if someone messages, “Do you want to meet in the office or conference room?” a series of contextually-aware
responses would reveal themselves, starting with two buttons, one for “office” and one for “conference room.” Obviously, this is a long-term goal and requires some sophisticated AI integration, but thinking in a predictive way on the Apple Watch still lends itself to a better user experience in the short term.

Looking down the road

Since the Apple Watch is tethered to your iPhone, in many ways it has made it the center of Apple’s digital ecosystem (sorry, Macbook), though maybe not the innovator anymore. Many of the new cutting edge features of the Apple Watch like Force Touch, Glances, and perhaps digital touch (the “Taptic” engine) might indeed find their way back to the iPhone as they seem superior in simplicity and much less distracting. It didn’t take long for many of the best iPhone features to make their way to the Mac, and we’re likely to see a similar cross-pollination with the Apple Watch.

Ryan Alexiev is the Creative
Director for
Avaamo, a messaging application provider for mobile-first enterprises and mobile-first workers.



Rotary Phone Converted for Mobile Use

As a society we are moving away from land line phones while mobile devices are becoming more and more prevalent. It is not uncommon for people to only have a cell phone and completely skip out on the corded home phone. While this move may be for convenience, there is one difference between the two phone types that didn’t ring well with [Stavros]. He’s an angry phone talker and misses the ability to slam down a phone handset. Now [Stavros] could just have a corded home phone but he wanted a mobile option for handset slams so he came up with a project called iRotary. It’s an old school rotary phone converted to be battery powered and uses cell phone networks for making calls.

At the heart of the project is an Arduino. The Arduino is a great choice as it can easily decode the phone’s rotary dial pulses. The Arduino code takes all of the individual dialed numbers and combines them into a phone number. The sketch is set up so that after the 10th digit is read, the phone call is placed using an off the shelf GSM shield and associated library.

Since a battery would be necessary to make this phone mobile, one was installed inside the case along with a charging circuit. [Stavros] hasn’t done any long-term endurance studies but he has had the phone on for several hours at a time without any problems. So, now he can rest easy knowing that an angry hang-ups are never out of his reach, regardless of where he may be. And since he’s a nice guy, he’s made the source code available for anyone wanting to make something similar.

 

Filed under: Cellphone Hacks

Transparent Alarm Clock Runs Linux

[Benoit] was using an extremely old alarm clock which normally ran on mains power, and he plugged it in to his computer’s UPS to keep it operational during power outages. He noticed that when the UPS switched on that the clock would run fast, though, and apparently it was keeping time by watching the power system frequency. To solve this problem he created his own feature-dense clock which runs Linux.

This alarm clock has everything: seven-segment displays housed in clear epoxy, a touch interface, battery backup, the ability to retrieve the time from an NTP server, and a web interface to change the clock’s settings over the network. That was a large part of [Benoit]’s decision to have the clock run Linux; the network capabilities add a lot of functionality to the clock like the ability to send commands to other devices at particular times. The clock runs on an Aria G25 SOM and has a custom case that looks very professional.

We’re suckers for a high-quality clock builds here, and [Benoit]’s most recent project hits all of our buttons. Even though it doesn’t currently drive people insane or tell confusing time, the Linux and networking capabilities could certainly open up options!

Filed under: clock hacks

Juice-Spewing Wind Turbine Bootstrapped from Bike Parts

Wind Turbines are great, they let us humans harness the energy of the wind. Wind is free and that is good, but spending a ton of money on a wind turbine setup begins to make the idea less appealing. [Ted] has spent many years building low cost wind turbines and this one is not only simple but can be made from mostly found parts.

It’s easy to identify the main rotor hub and blade frame which are made from an old bicycle wheel. The blades are standard aluminum flashing normally used in home construction and are attached directly to the spokes of the bike wheel. Mounted below the bike rim is a permanent magnet motor that acts as a generator. A belt couples the motor to the main rotor and uses the tire-less rim as a pulley.

[Ted] has strapped this beast to the roof of his car to measure how it performs. At 12 mph, he’s getting between 18-20 volts at 2 amps. Not too bad! Bikes and bike parts are cheap (or free) and there is no surprise that they have been used in wind turbine projects before, like this one that hangs from a kite.

Filed under: green hacks

California helps low-income drivers switch to electric cars

chev_volt


California is introducing a new ‘Plus-Up’ pilot project that should make plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles a lot more affordable.

Considering recent news that prices on used electric cars are on a downward spiral, and with families potentially eligible to receive as much as $12,000 toward the purchase of an electric car (used is fine)—plus up to $2,000 for a charging unit—some households could land an electric vehicle at net-zero cost.

If you live in California and think this is great news, it is. But hold on before you head to the dealership. To qualify, you have to live in one of two problematic air-pollution zones: either the South Coast Air Quality
Management District (covering some of Greater Los Angeles) or the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Specifically, within those regions, you must reside in “a zip code that contains a disadvantaged census tract,” as the Air Resource Board explains (this document, with a series of localized maps, helps clarify that).

Cleaner transportation for price-pinched households

Info sheet for California EFMP Plus-Up clean-vehicle incentive pilot program

Simply put, buyers with the lowest incomes, purchasing the cleanest vehicles, are eligible for the highest
incentive amounts—provided as “cash payments.” Retirees in gated subdivisions and households in other affluent communities probably won’t qualify for this one.

Those who are considered by the program to be Low Income (225 percent of the federal poverty level or less) qualify for a hybrid that’s rated higher than 35 mpg, or $9,500 toward a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle. Meanwhile, Moderate Income households (226 to 300 percent of the poverty level) qualify for $5,000 toward those hybrids, or $7,500 toward a plug-in hybrid or EV, and those who are considered Above Moderate Income (up to four times the federal poverty level) can get $5,500 toward a plug-in hybrid or EV.

That all applies not just to new vehicles but to used vehicles less than eight years old—which could make some plug-in vehicles and electric cars very, very affordable.

New vehicles may also be eligible for a $1,500 rebate for PHEVs and a $2,500 rebate for EVs.

The incentives
actually apply to non-hybrid, gasoline-engine vehicles, too. In that case you don’t even have to be in one of those disadvantaged tracts, but you still need to live in the air-quality districts.

It even covers going carless

And if you’re thinking of going carless, you’re also in luck there. The program doesn’t even require you to buy a replacement car. Instead, depending on your income level, you could, in return, get public transit passes worth between $2,500 and $4,500.

You might say that the program resembles the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), or Cash for Clunkers, as it was far more widely termed. That program was national in reach and retired more than 690,000 vehicles, incentivizing their replacement with more fuel-efficient new vehicles.

For more information and to clarify eligibility, call the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution
Control District, at 559-230-6000, or the South Coast Air Quality Management District, for the Greater LA region, at 909-396-2647.

 

This story originally appeared on Green Car Reports.



Interactive Fur Mirror Follows Your Every Move

We think artist [Daniel Rozin] spent a bit too much time wondering if he could make an interactive fur mirror, without wondering if he should. The result is… strange — to say the least.

It’s called the PomPom Mirror, and its one of many interactive installations in the Descent With Modification at Bitforms — there’s even a super cute flock of penguins which spin around to create the same effect.

The mirror is 4 by 4 feet and 18″ deep. It has 928 faux fur pom poms which are controlled by 464 motors, each effectively with an “on” and “off” state. A Microsoft Kinect tracks movement and creates a black and white binary image of what it sees. The artist also programmed in a few animation sequences which make the mirror come alive — like some weird furry alien / plant thing…

It’s really weird. But we kinda like it. For a more traditional mirror, check out this long-lost project — an interactive touch sensitive bathroom mirror!

[via This Is Colossal]

Filed under: Kinect hacks

Interactive Fur Mirror Follows Your Every Move

We think artist [Daniel Rozin] spent a bit too much time wondering if he could make an interactive fur mirror, without wondering if he should. The result is… strange — to say the least.

It’s called the PomPom Mirror, and its one of many interactive installations in the Descent With Modification at Bitforms — there’s even a super cute flock of penguins which spin around to create the same effect.

The mirror is 4 by 4 feet and 18″ deep. It has 928 faux fur pom poms which are controlled by 464 motors, each effectively with an “on” and “off” state. A Microsoft Kinect tracks movement and creates a black and white binary image of what it sees. The artist also programmed in a few animation sequences which make the mirror come alive — like some weird furry alien / plant thing…

It’s really weird. But we kinda like it. For a more traditional mirror, check out this long-lost project — an interactive touch sensitive bathroom mirror!

[via This Is Colossal]

Filed under: Kinect hacks

Ducted Fan Drone Uses 1 Rotor for VTOL

Multi-rotor fixed-pitch aircraft – quad, hexa, octa copters – are the current flavor of the season with hobby and amateur flight enthusiasts. The serious aero-modeling folks prefer their variable-pitch, single rotor heli’s. Defense and military folks, on the other hand, opt for a fixed wing UAV design that needs a launch mechanism to get airborne. A different approach to flight is the ducted fan, vertical take-off and landing UAV. [Armin Strobel] has been working on just such a design since 2001. However, it wasn’t until recent advances in rapid-prototyping such as 3D printing and availability of small, powerful and cheap flight controllers that allowed him to make some progress. His Ducted Fan VTOL UAV uses just such recent technologies.

Ducted fan designs can use either swivelling tilt rotors that allow the craft to transition from vertical flight to horizontal, or movable control surfaces to control thrust. The advantage is that a single propeller can be used if the model is not too big. This, in turn, allows the use of internal combustion engines which cannot be used in multi-rotor craft (well, they’ve proven difficult to use thus far).

[Armin] started this project in 2001 in a configuration where the centre of gravity is located beneath trust vectoring, giving the advantage of stability. Since there were no hobby autopilots available at the time, it was only equipped with one gyroscope and a mechanical mixer to control the vehicle around the vertical axis. Unfortunately, the craft was destroyed during the first flight, after having managed a short flight, and he stopped further work on it – until now. To start with, he built his own 3D printer – a delta design with a big build volume of 400mm3. 3D printing allowed him to build a structure which already included all the necessary mount points and supports needed to fix servos and other components. The in-fill feature allowed him to make his structure stiff and lightweight too.

Intending to build his own auto-pilot, he experimented with a BeagleBone Black connected to a micro controller to interface with the sensors and actuators. But he wasn’t too happy with initial results, and instead opted to use the PixHawk PX4 auto-pilot system. The UAV is powered by one 3-cell 3500mAh LiPo. The outside diameter of the duct is 30cm (12”), the height is 55cm (22”) and the take-off weight is about 1.2kg (2.6 pound). It has not yet been flown, since he is still waiting for the electronics to arrive, but some bench tests have been conducted with satisfactory results. In the meantime, he is looking to team up with people who share similar interests, so do get in touch with him if this is something up your alley.

If you want to look at other interesting designs, check this UAV that can autonomously transition from quadcopter flight to that of a fixed-wing aircraft or this VTOL airplane / quadcopter mashup.

Filed under: drone hacks, news

Ducted Fan Drone Uses 1 Rotor for VTOL

Multi-rotor fixed-pitch aircraft – quad, hexa, octa copters – are the current flavor of the season with hobby and amateur flight enthusiasts. The serious aero-modeling folks prefer their variable-pitch, single rotor heli’s. Defense and military folks, on the other hand, opt for a fixed wing UAV design that needs a launch mechanism to get airborne. A different approach to flight is the ducted fan, vertical take-off and landing UAV. [Armin Strobel] has been working on just such a design since 2001. However, it wasn’t until recent advances in rapid-prototyping such as 3D printing and availability of small, powerful and cheap flight controllers that allowed him to make some progress. His Ducted Fan VTOL UAV uses just such recent technologies.

Ducted fan designs can use either swivelling tilt rotors that allow the craft to transition from vertical flight to horizontal, or movable control surfaces to control thrust. The advantage is that a single propeller can be used if the model is not too big. This, in turn, allows the use of internal combustion engines which cannot be used in multi-rotor craft (well, they’ve proven difficult to use thus far).

[Armin] started this project in 2001 in a configuration where the centre of gravity is located beneath trust vectoring, giving the advantage of stability. Since there were no hobby autopilots available at the time, it was only equipped with one gyroscope and a mechanical mixer to control the vehicle around the vertical axis. Unfortunately, the craft was destroyed during the first flight, after having managed a short flight, and he stopped further work on it – until now. To start with, he built his own 3D printer – a delta design with a big build volume of 400mm3. 3D printing allowed him to build a structure which already included all the necessary mount points and supports needed to fix servos and other components. The in-fill feature allowed him to make his structure stiff and lightweight too.

Intending to build his own auto-pilot, he experimented with a BeagleBone Black connected to a micro controller to interface with the sensors and actuators. But he wasn’t too happy with initial results, and instead opted to use the PixHawk PX4 auto-pilot system. The UAV is powered by one 3-cell 3500mAh LiPo. The outside diameter of the duct is 30cm (12”), the height is 55cm (22”) and the take-off weight is about 1.2kg (2.6 pound). It has not yet been flown, since he is still waiting for the electronics to arrive, but some bench tests have been conducted with satisfactory results. In the meantime, he is looking to team up with people who share similar interests, so do get in touch with him if this is something up your alley.

If you want to look at other interesting designs, check this UAV that can autonomously transition from quadcopter flight to that of a fixed-wing aircraft or this VTOL airplane / quadcopter mashup.

Filed under: drone hacks, news